Column | Feb. 3

A tradition of casualties

By Uchechi Kalu

As the tides of Bicker crash upon us I raise a middle finger one final time to the parasitic system that has won the unquestioning loyalty of Princeton’s social culture. We continue to delude ourselves into believing that maintaining the integrity of Princeton lies in our ability to subject classmates to social isolation and shame. I have long since been unmoved by claims of the clubs’ overarching inclusivity. I sulk at exaltations praising the efficacy with which our clubs bring together disparate student populations. In truth, Bicker is but Princeton’s version of playground politics — “friendships” are determined through terms of utmost irrelevancy: the name of your prep school, the combination of your Greek letters, your athleticism, your extracurriculars, your perceived ‘rowdiness,’ your perceived ‘class,’ how token African-American/gay/Asian/ethnic you are …

These are but external factors that say nothing about the virtue of a person. In ignorance, we use them as signifiers of social worth. And yet Princetonians continue to portray Bicker as the ultimate tradition, where social exclusion and exclusivity are but the backdrop to a process that provides every student a fair shot at succeeding. The ease with which we facilitate our peers’ social humiliation only to suppress our own guilt thereafter is appalling. Once and for all we must bury the question that drives Bicker: “Would I have a meal with you?” We derive its answer through means so nebulous and infantile that it is impossible to consider ourselves well-formed adults. No student body should flaunt a process as morally questionable as Bicker. And no accredited university should have an established platform for students to resurrect their grade school addictions for being “liked,” “wanted” and “chosen.”

What amazes me most is the naive candor with which we’ve learned to justify Bicker. The excuses are endless. To a confounding degree Princetonians proclaim that life is just a large-scale version of Bicker. We say that social exclusion is inevitable and often preferred. We say that Bicker is just preparation for what is to come. If any of these excuses are even true, then the “real world” is nothing but a country club. We’ve got it all wrong. Exclusion is best used in our world as a means of efficacy. For example, when a job or leadership position opens up, it is crucial that only a few candidates are chosen. With the most capable people on staff, work is completed efficiently. Exclusion, therefore, plays a justifiable role in society because it identifies and rewards merit and intellect.

Bicker does neither. Bicker thrives on petty exclusion. I’ve often heard people rebut, “Well, I have the right to choose my own friends.” Sure, choose the members of your church so you’re all praying to the same God. Choose the members of your book club, so no one complains about reading Nicholas Sparks’ novels week after week. But don’t limit who you dine with at Princeton and then justify Bicker with pre-packaged responses that are so overdone they reveal just how little you’ve thought about the process. Conducting (or even attending) Bicker is not a life skill, nor is it a valuable part of what we should consider tradition. These excuses are meant to soothe our psyches when cognitive dissonance takes hold — when we remember how painfully corrupt the process is and yet continue partaking anyhow.

This goes out to everyone gearing up to bicker someone else: Think not about the successes, but the casualties. And that those hosed will be your friends and classmates. People no different than you will be forced to hang their heads in shame unless they sign in to an alternative club, bicker in the fall and succeed, or finally “get over it” as I’ve often heard people mutter with arrogant nonchalance. We throw around terms like “tradition” and “The Princeton Experience” as if they can somehow justify a social system as brutish as Bicker. Let’s stop fooling ourselves. There is nothing about Princeton culture that makes this acceptable. Just because Bicker existed in the past doesn’t mean we must continue to perpetuate it. As long as we do, we bring shame upon ourselves, our values and our intellect.

Uchechi Kalu is a Near Eastern studies major from Orangeburg, S.C. She can be reached at ukalu@princeton.edu.

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